July 06, 2006

"You know you've arrived when you're in a dictionary"

Merriam-Webster is giving us a sneak preview of the words that will be added to the 2006 edition of the Collegiate Dictionary, among them: supersize (the verb), drama queen, unibrow, polyamory, and mouse potato. Mouse potato? I must admit I never heard that one. Which is bad because I probably am one.

According to the Associated Press, the verb google has finally made it as well. Note that as a verb it "lowercased" (ah, don't you just love noun-to-verb conversions?).

"We try to have a mix that addresses the wide range of people's information needs when adding new words," said John Morse, president of the Springfield-based dictionary publisher. "It could be a technical term or some light-hearted slang that sends people to a dictionary."

To make it into the dictionary, a word has to be more than a flash-in-the-pan fad. It needs staying power. "We need evidence that the word is showing up in publications that people are reading on an everyday basis," Morse said. Lexicographers comb through national newspapers, entertainment magazines, trade journals and Web sites in search of new words and phrases.

[...] Along with defining an intensive computer user as a "mouse potato" (a popular twist on the late 1990's "couch potato" entry), they have given formal definition to one of the Internet's most recognizable names. "Google is definitely a verb," said Dan Reynolds, a 35-year-old salesman at YES Computers in Northampton. "Google has become like a secondary brain for a lot of people. If you want quick info on something, that's what you do. You Google it."

Respectful of the trademark, Merriam-Webster lowercases the entry but maintains the capitalization while explaining that the verb means "to use the Google search engine" to retrieve online information. "We're defining a trademark as a verb, just like we did with the word xerox," Morse said. [...]

Environmentalists and alternative energy fans should be heartened by the addition of "biodiesel," which is a fuel made partly with vegetable sources. "That symbolizes to me that biodiesel is becoming a household word," said Jenna Higgins, a spokeswoman for the National Biodiesel Board. "You know you've arrived when you're in the dictionary."

If you would like to know which words were recognized as new words 200 years ago, follow this link. Noah Webster added loan words from Native American languages (such as skunk) as well as many terms relating to the sciences (such as psychology, nutrient, and ignescent). He is also known, of course, for simplifying the spelling of many words. Some of his suggestions, however, never caught on, among them wimmen (women), sley (sleigh), and soop (soup).

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